Metrolift executes its safety strategy through daily staff meetings. Every morning at 8 a.m., Dahl gathers all employees to go over what needs to be done that day, how it’s going to get accomplished, as well as any safety concerns. Following that, he meets specifically with all of the mechanics.
Effective training and an ongoing dialogue about safety are vital to a safe workplace, but according to Dahl, it’s necessary to have someone dedicated to the cause in order to make a safety strategy really work. “You need to have a safety pillar,” he says. “All of our customers have safety protocols and safety people. The vendor now needs to have that, and that’s a shift in our industry. United Rentals and some of the larger nationals have regional safety personnel. Now, from an independent standpoint, I don’t know how we could operate without someone dedicated full time to safety.”
Difficult to quantify, safety has an immeasurable value when one factors in what’s at stake. Valdez explains that Metrolift promotes safety to customers through a variety of means, including offering annual inspections, as required by OSHA regulations. She says many contractors don’t know about the annual inspection requirement for aerial work platforms, so Metrolift works to educate end users on why the inspection is needed and the potential consequences of not getting it.
In addition, Metrolift makes a point of distributing IPAF’s Statement of Best Practices of General Training and Familiarization for Aerial Work Platform Equipment to its customers to bring attention to what’s required. “Awareness is huge,” Valdez says. “We send it out to new customers and drop it off with general contractors. We want to make sure we’re giving our customers what they actually need, not just what they think they need.”
Discipline is key
The rental industry is currently experiencing a period of expansive growth, but one of the biggest challenges is the rapidly accelerating price of commodities and new equipment, and the relationship these costs have to rental rates. “If you were to tell me six months ago that equipment prices would be up 10 to 15 percent today, I would have said no way, but it’s happening,” Dahl says.
As a result of the increase, Metrolift has raised its rental rates across all product lines, even when some of its competitors have cut theirs. “We’re customer-focused and value-added, and we’re not the cheapest in the marketplace,” Dahl says. “We feel we offer a safe product, we have customer service, we respond quickly. We don’t feel the market should be taken by price.”
He continues, “We want to focus on our core values, our direction, our strategy. We don’t want to be naive to our competition, but we’re not going to change our plan based on some of the undisciplined actions in the marketplace. So, we’re saying no more often. There was a time when it was very difficult for any independent or national to say no to certain opportunities, but we’ve increased our ‘nos’ tremendously.”
It’s always tough to increase rates, and the challenge is particularly difficult in the face of new equipment costs that are increasing steeply due in part to upcoming Tier IV engine regulations. “The costs that are getting presented to us just to have that engine change could be as high as $6,000 per machine,” Dahl says, noting that compliance issues are one of the biggest sources of anxiety when running his business.
“Just to be in compliance with EPA, DOT, ANSI, etc., when you’re an independent rental company, you have to have full-time awareness,” he says. “We want to do the right thing, so we’re assigning people here to monitor that full time. When we need to make adjustments based on a new interpretation or new laws that come out every year, we want to be the first to acknowledge that and make those changes. But it’s a challenge.”